Alternative Careers for Lawyers: What To Do When You Want To Quit Law (With 70+ Options!)

I can’t even tell you how many times I Googled “alternative careers for lawyers” while I was working in Biglaw. It was . . . a lot.

I hated being a lawyer.

Since you’re here, I’m guessing that’s you as well.

You realize that you want to leave legal practice, and you’re trying to figure out the best alternative careers for lawyers.

Or you may not be totally sure that you want to leave, but you definitely want to at least see what options are out there.

So you turn to the magical Google machine in hopes that if you type in the right combination of words, it will spit out an answer that makes you go, “Aha!”

(Again … I’ve been there.)

So, in keeping with the general theme of Former Lawyer, which is “create things that I wish existed when I was still a lawyer,” here is a guide to alternative careers for lawyers based on all of the interviews that I have conducted for the podcast.

If you hate being a lawyer and are trying to figure out what’s next, read on!

Want to explore the possibility of pursuing an alternative career? Grab my free guide, First Steps to Leaving the Law!

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If you want to leave law behind, you need to figure out what you want to do next.

When you start thinking about leaving the law, it’s an overwhelming moment. This post is designed to give you some of the answers that you’re looking to keep you from falling down yet another Google rabbit hole. (Maybe I should just go in-house? Would I like a compliance role? I thought it was supposed to be easy to find alternative careers for lawyers? Why is this so difficult??)

We’re going to start by laying a foundation about why you want to leave, and what’s wrong with legal practice.

(But if you want to jump right to the list of 70+ alternative careers for lawyers with actual real-life examples, click here!)

Then, we’ll wrap up with some of the questions that you may be asking yourself is you’re considering changing careers, including a brief pep talk about why leaving the law is actually possible, reasonable, and maybe (probably) the right choice for you.

Let’s get into it!

A few reasons why you might be thinking about leaving the law.

It’s no secret that being a lawyer is one of the most stressful jobs that you can have. There are task forces, books, and a multitude of articles written about lawyer stress and burnout.

All the way back in 2014, lawyering was described as “the only job with an industry devoted to helping people quit.”

Here are some of the reasons that I (and many others) think the legal industry is so toxic.

The billable hour model is the literal worst.

Most lawyers hate billing their time. It creates terrible incentives and stifles innovation.

(I share more about my thoughts on the billable hour in this two-part conversation here and here.)

You’re either stressed because you’re overworked and have no time for anything else (but at least you’re making your hours), or stressed because you are slow and what if you don’t make your hours?!

In short, the billable hour model is terrible for the people inside it.

The legal profession is obsessed with prestige.

Be honest … why did you become a lawyer? Why did you choose the school that you did? Why did you choose the job that you did?

Not every lawyer is driven primarily by wanting to go to the most prestigious institution or land the most prestigious job … but many, many are.

And because the legal job market is so competitive, often lawyers and law firms use prestige as an artificial metric to weed out job applicants, confirming the idea that prestige is an inherent good.

But the reality is that if you’re making your career decisions based upon what’s the most prestigious, you are giving little to no consideration to whether the job that you’re pursuing is actually suited for you.

No wonder that especially in Biglaw, many lawyers show up and shortly afterward think, “What have I done?!”

Lawyers are not good at separating their identity from their job.

I don’t know about you, but when I was working as a litigator, I felt like I had no time to be anything but a lawyer.

There just wasn’t much time for anything else.

That’s a pretty suffocating feeling when your job makes you miserable.

But, there’s an even more insidious thing that happens in the legal profession when it comes to how you see yourself.

Regardless of how much time your job demands of you, for most of us, being a lawyer feels like a core part of our being.

“I am a lawyer,” turns into, “Who am I if I’m not a lawyer?”

Almost every lawyer I work with inside the Former Lawyer Collaborative™ is dealing with some aspect of this struggle regarding their identity.

Extreme anxiety and stress is normalized in the legal profession.

It’s no secret that law is a stressful profession. Many lawyers struggle with anxiety, and the legal profession’s mental health stats are grim.

Especially if you have a clinical mental health issue (and many lawyers do, and don’t even realize it), the legal profession is practically designed to exacerbate anxiety.

But because everyone’s anxious, it seems like something that just comes with the job, and is normal.

It’s not normal.

Burnout is rampant in the legal profession.

People may tell you that it’s the same in every workplace, but that’s simply not true. Lawyers experience a statistically significant higher rate of mental illness and substance abuse than people in other professions.

Here are 8 signs of a toxic workplace, according to Ilona Salmons, a therapist who specializes in working with burned out lawyers. Many legal workplaces score an 8 out of 8 on this scale. It’s no surprise, then, that so many lawyers experience burnout.

By definition, burnout at work is an “occupational phenomenon” caused by “chronic workplace stress.” Because the causes of burnout are systemic, the remedies for burnout must also be systemic. Here are some important signs of lawyer burnout, and Salmons’s advice for dealing with burnout as a lawyer.

Law is bad; Biglaw is the worst.

Biglaw lawyers, and associates in particular, are incredibly stressed and overworked, but stress and overwork is not confined to Biglaw alone. (Here’s a bit of a rant about Biglaw and why I created Former Lawyer.)

The Biglaw system creates burnout, while at the same time telling the lawyers in it that their burnout is their own fault. Burnout in Biglaw reached all time highs in 2021, and moving into 2022 and beyond it’s not slowing down. (And regardless of what firms say, the solutions to the problem of Biglaw burnout are not actually that mysterious.)

Gaslighting, toxic norms and behavior that go unaddressed (i.e., “the culture” of big firms), authority without a corresponding weight of responsibility, covert emotional abuse, narcisscism (people and entire organizations)… the list goes on and on.

Yep, being a lawyer is inherently crappy.

These are just some of the reasons that you may hate being a lawyer. Truth is, there’s a myriad of reasons beyond the ones above—these are just some of the big ones.

So your reasons for wanting to do something else with your J.D. may be different than these, but regardless, if you’re here, it’s because you’re ready to figure out some real options for what might be next.

Want to explore the possibility of pursuing an alternative career? Grab my free guide, First Steps to Leaving the Law!

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What else can I do with my law degree?

Before we dive into the specifics, I want to make one thing super clear: if you’re a lawyer, basically ANY career is a possible alternative career for you. So if you’re wondering what else you can do with your law degree other than be a lawyer, I want you to know up front that there are lots of options for you.

Often when lawyers start exploring their career options, they want to hew as closely as possible to an actual legal job, even if it’s technically non-practicing, because they’re afraid of wasting the time and money they spent becoming a lawyer.

(More on this later.)

I strongly encourage you to embrace the reality that you carry your experience with you into ANY job that you choose.

As you’ll see below, there are endless possibilities if you want to leave the law.

In fact, one of the biggest issues people tackle in the Collaborative™ is how to narrow down their options.

Stepping off the path of lawyering can feel downright scary!

It’s moving from a very clearly defined path to one that often feels murky and unclear.

But it’s worth it. So here we go!

70+ alternative careers for lawyers (with real-life examples!)

Here’s how the list works . . .

Each career, job, or field in the list below is linked to one or more podcast episodes that I’ve done with actual, real life people who worked as lawyers, and then decided to leave to do the job or career described.

You can click through on each and read the blog post accompanying the episode, plus listen to the episode for all the details that each of my guests has shared!

And, my guests are happy to connect with you, so if you’re particularly interested in a specific career, just look for the links in the show notes on each page to connect with the former lawyer of your choice directly.

And now, without further ado . . .

A non-exhaustive list of alternative careers for lawyers with real-life examples:

Check back often, because this list is updated all the time as I do new interviews.

Want to explore the possibility of pursuing an alternative career? Grab my free guide, First Steps to Leaving the Law!

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So you’ve explored the list of alternative careers for lawyers … now what?

Okay, so now you’ve seen the list, and you know that there are a LOT of things that you could do if you don’t want to be a lawyer anymore.

I imagine there were probably at least one or two things on that list which surprised you.

But the next question is, with so many possible alternative careers for lawyers . . . how do YOU figure out what YOU should do if you quit law?

First, check out answers to some of the common questions I get from lawyers who want to change careers:

Frequently asked questions from lawyers considering alternative careers:

Second, here are a few things that I think you should know if you hate being a lawyer and want to quit.

Things you need to know if you’re exploring alternative careers for lawyers:

Want to explore the possibility of pursuing an alternative career? Grab my free guide, First Steps to Leaving the Law!

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Resources for lawyers looking for alternative careers

Finally, here are three ways to get the ball rolling, whenever you’re ready to figure out how to ditch your legal job for good.

1. Listen to The Former Lawyer Podcast

Each week on The Former Lawyer Podcast, I share honest conversations with former lawyers about their decisions to leave the law for different careers, plus advice and insight from my own experience. Listen on AppleSpotifyStitcherOvercast, or wherever you listen to podcasts using the RSS feed.

2. Grab a free copy of the First Steps To Leaving The Law Guide

The free First Steps To Leaving The Law guide shares the very first steps that you should take if you want to explore the possibility of leaving the law (or just bailing out of your current job), plus four myths that could be holding you back.

Click here to get it now.

3. Join the Former Lawyer Collaborative™

The Former Lawyer Collaborative™ supports lawyers who are trying to figure out what they want to do outside of the law.

The core of the Collaborative™ is a simple and powerful five-part Former Lawyer Framework™ to help you identify the alternative career that is right for you. Inside this confidential community, we help you explore different careers options, identify your new path, and put a plan in place to get there.

Want to hear what it’s like to work with me in the Collaborative? Here’s what one of my clients had to say about her experience in the Collaborative, and here’s what another client shared about what it’s like for lawyers inside the Collaborative.

Click here for details about the Collaborative™.

4. Work with me 1:1

I work with a very limited number of Biglaw lawyers 1:1. You can click here for more information about what that experience looks like.

Bonus! Watch this video, where I share four things that every lawyer needs to know if they want to identify an alternative career path:

I hope this post has been helpful for you. If you’re not sure where to start after all of this information, start here—> download my free guide, First Steps To Leaving The Law!

This article was updated on April 20, 2022.